VCAP-DCA and it’s value to me

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After several months of study (slightly longer than planned due to writing up all my study notes) I was finally notified that I’d passed the VCAP-DCA exam yesterday. Hurrah!

The VCAP-DCA blueprint is pretty comprehensive and for many will involve studying topics they’ve not used before. Regarding the exam itself I have nothing of value to add that hasn’t already been said, but it’s been nice to reflect on what I gained from taking the certification. Given that quite a few recruiters simply state ‘VCP/VCAP/VCDX’ as general requirements for job specs I’m not sure how much value the certification holds in the marketplace yet, but here are the top five ‘wins’ for me as a result of studying;

  1. PowerCLI. I’ve scripted in many languages over the years but none that are so easy to pick up and achieve results with. I’ve used PowerCLI in production to automate deployments, get weekly reports and automate some compliance work and I doubt I’d have done so much if I didn’t have to cover the VCAP-DCA blueprint (especially the VIX component).
  2. Distributed switches – my company don’t have Enterprise+ licencing so I don’t get to work with these in a production environment. Lab testing is never the same and the exam highlighted a few areas where I could improve. I like the concept, but with under a hundred hosts I’m not yet convinced of the value for money. Various features and products (vCD comes to mind) are dependant on vDS, so I think it’ll get pushed more and more by VMware however.
  3. Host profiles – again, I had no real world experience due to licencing restrictions.I did learn that they’re not that great though, even in limited lab testing. There are too many things they can’d do, a fairly limited interface and lack of flexibility. Definitely not the equivalent of Group Policy in an AD environment (which was my mental equivalent).
  4. ESXTOP. I’ve always been somewhat wary of this, especially after a presentation at the LonVMUG which was very good but hurt my brain! Despite being a Linux admin so comfortable with command line, something about the advanced ESXTOP settings seemed complex and hard to understand. After watching some VMworld sessions and working through the ESXTOP bible it’s now much clearer and I’ve found myself using it far more at work.
  5. vCenter Heartbeat. Like many places we’re increasingly reliant on vCenter and I worry about resilience. I now  know how to use it – and the fact that I probably wouldn’t.

vcap4-dcaAs with any exam though there are questions which you might not know the answer to, but you know a quick Google would tell you the answer (so have little real value in the exam, in my opinion). These aren’t quite in that category, but here’s three things which I had to learn purely for the sake of the exam;

  1. Orchestrator. Much though I love automation this isn’t easy enough to use and the reliance on Javascript instead of PowerCLI is a deal breaker for me. I can write Javascript (or use Onyx) but for an admin this is hard to use compared to PowerCLI.
  2. Fault Tolerance. Due to the 1vCPU restriction I’ve not got any servers which really benefit from this, so it was an exercise (if interesting) in theory only.
  3. vShield Zones. I’d actually hoped this might be in my top five, but in the end it’s in my bottom three. The interface is incredibly basic compared to any dedicated firewall so I wouldn’t want to use it in production. The exam also only covers v1.0, whereas v4.0 is the current release.

I used a wide variety of study materials, and in order of most beneficial here’s how I’d list them;

  • Blogs – these complement the official docs – it’s where people spot the real challenge of a particular feature, or the unspoken gaps not mentioned in the official docs. Start at vLaunchPad.
  • Official documentation
  • VMworld sessions – free to view (mostly) and focused on particular subjects, these an are often overlooked treasure trove.
  • Study notes – creating my own study notes definately helped me remember things, as did other people’s (Sean Crookston’s especially).
  • Community forums – both the general vSphere ones and the VCAP-DCA forum are useful places to post questions, and see what everyone else is asking. vicfg-firewall anyone?
  • Trainsignal’s Troubleshooting training course by David Davis. The information is very useful and goes above and beyond the blueprint requirements.

And of course I have something to add to the C.V.!

6 thoughts on “VCAP-DCA and it’s value to me

  1. Congratulations… -:) I’m planning to pass the exam this year too. Maybe during VMworld 2010 in Copenhagen…..

    It seem difficult but not impossible.


    1. Thanks Vladan. I’ve referred to your website quite a few times in the past, and judging by the great content I think you’ll sail through the VCAP-DCA. Good luck!

  2. nice one!
    your study guide is very useful too, i’m glad you took the time to write it up while you were studying

  3. Hi Edward.

    Congrats on your pass.

    Hope you dont mind me asking a few questions.

    1. Is the exam easier, as you work with vmware on a daily basis?
    As i am not that fortunate, therefore i have to rely on my home lab. which is limited to 1 physical server and several nested hosts.

    2. Trainsignal videos, do they help?
    Since i am unable to afford, the additional training courses, i was hoping trainsignal videos would be an ideal substitute.

    3. How should i incorporate your notes, into my own study plan, im trying to work out, if i should just this and the vmware official docs, to prepare for the exam.

    Any advise would be greatly appreciated.



    1. Thanks Jitesh, and here’s a few thoughts;
      1. It’s definately useful to have ‘real world’ experience over just lab time – you never stress test a product unless someone asks you to do things you woulnd’t normally think of (which happens in prodution environments all the time). If you don’t get hands on time during the day the best advice is to trawl the VMware forums and answer questions, and try to mock up user issues in your lab.
      2. I’m a fan of Trainsignal videos. I’m lucky enough that my workplace have a few so I’ve watched both their vSphere and vSphere Troubleshooting videos. Like a production environment they’ll probably expose you to areas, commands, logs etc that you wouldn’t think to play with in a lab. Compared to instructor courses they’re definately a good option if cost is an issue. Plus they get in your brain – “Welcome to Trainsignal, let’s get started!” is now engrained…
      3. Only you know how to study effectively for you. For me I like a structured approach and writing it down helps me distill the useful info. Make notes, write yourself test scenarios, answer forum questions, get involved in Twitter, read the blogs – there are plenty of choices so pick the ones which work for you.

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